Born in 1930 to a poor West Virginia family and determined to never look back, Doris Payne flung herself into an unlikely, globe-hopping career of crime, stealing millions of dollars in jewels over five decades and collecting fake names like a candy-crazed kid on Halloween. Much of her success was due to a practiced demeanor of well-bred serenity; she still has that poise in these interviews (some of them filmed through prison glass), collected by a pair of documentarians who clearly see in Payne an antiheroine. (Her life story is also being adapted for Halle Berry.)
The film is strong when exploring Payne’s unusual status as an African-American operating in white-bread To Catch a Thief territory—the subject’s exploits reveal a confidence transcending race as well as the law. More shakily, Payne’s obvious pathology isn’t probed as deeply as it should be. A jaunty musical score smooths over what might have been a tougher profile about an expert liar, to self included.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf